Kate Sutton, Labour's candidate for Epsom, seems to excite the misogynists as few others do. Standing for the centre-left in the high profile, and highly-monied seat, of Epsom can't be easy,* and it seems that Kate has to deal with a fair amount of sexist crap as well.
Case in point; the TVNZ7 debate for Epsom, which a friend of mine attended recently as a Labour supporter. Sutton was the only non-MP in the debate, which featured Richard Worth from National, Rodney Hide from Act, and Keith Locke from the Greens. Astute readers might also have noticed she was the only woman speaking too - other than Kate it was wall-to-wall heterosexual older white men up on stage. Talk about feeling like The Other.
I've been to a lot of candidate debates; I've even organised and participated in a few. And so I've seen and heard a lot of heckling. In my humble opinion, heckling is part of the democratic to and fro of a candidate debate, as long as it doesn't get nasty or dominate to the extent that it infringes on the right of others to be heard. A good interjection can be a story to be re-told again and again, by all those who heard it, and a sense of humour is always a desirable attribute in the good heckler.
In my younger days I was frequently quite vociferous at political events. In 1999 I even attended an Act meeting in Milford with three friends and we were ejected by the police, after one of my stauncher mates really went hell for leather in challenging Rodney Hide when he assumed he was on safe ground for attacking solo parents on the DPB. On that occasion Mr Hide's campaign manager, one Aaron Bhatnagar lately of Auckland City Council, sat by my friend with the loud voice and the louder views and rather than engaging with her about the issues started to get nasty. Very nasty. But very quietly, so that only a few of us could hear. He started telling her she was fat and ugly and everyone thought she was hideous. He went on for quite a while, attacking my friend not for her politics or for her behaviour, but for her looks. Other women will probably identify with the internal crumbling that accompanies such crictism of your appearance - even when you are aware of the extreme socialisation that tells us from girlhood that what we look like is more important than what we say or do, to be spoken to like that is still a brutal assault.
But back to the recent Epsom debate: Mr Bhatnagar's tactics appear to have been picked up by at least one of those campaigning for Act in this election campaign. At the TVNZ7 debate as Kate walked in a certain blogger for the right started making piggy noises. Loudly. So that Sutton could hear him and feel that insecurity that lies within most Western women; that we're fat and ugly and thus worthless. He was trying to intimidate Sutton, right from the start, and undermine her performance in the debate by planting an awful seed of self-doubt. And his attempt was not based on critiquing her party, or her policy, or anything else relevant to her capability as an MP or her party's suitability to run the country; it was wholly, totally about her looks.
Kate is a mate of mine, really more a friend of lots of my friends. She didn't ask me to write this. Indeed we haven't talked about it (I was told about it by a mutual friend) and I don't even know if she's reading this blog at all. To be honest I didn't write this post for her, because she knows all this already. I wrote it because this kind of crap is not ok, and those who perpetuate it need to be called out.
Shame on you Blair Mulholland, and any other blokes who think this stuff is an acceptable part of The Game. Even political candidates are human beings, and they deserve to be treated with respect, whether they are on your side or not.
Update: Anjum has a few stories from the campaign trail to share too - in regard to Sue Moroney, and the bizarre tale of someone writing an anonymous letter of complaint about Anjum herself and sending it to her parents. Two more examples of attacks on female candidates that would not be made on their male counterparts, and should not be made on anyone.
Later update: Aaron Bhatnagar has provided his own version of events in comments. Of course I stand by what I've written in this post, just wanted to let readers know that he doesn't agree and his recollection is available in the thread. He's pretty steamed up about something that happened almost a decade ago! Pre-election jitters perhaps? I know most political activists get a bit on edge in the last week of the campaign.
* Well it wasn't as an Alliance candidate a couple of elections back, so I think I can safely assume it's no easier to be Labour there now.